Parental empathy

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 20, 2013, 9:27 PM | comments: 0

One of the biggest things that I've learned as Simon's dad is the importance of empathy. I think early on I saw myself responding emotionally with aggregation at things he would do, and I realized that was absurd. Now that he's a little older and knows he can push buttons, this is even more important. I have to put myself in his shoes.

Let me make clear what this isn't. This is not feeling bad for a kid and engaging in that coddling participation trophy bullshit that seems to be so prevalent in our culture. Understanding the reasons your kid feels a certain way isn't reason to just bow in to whatever they need. That understanding is however key to how you react.

I'm surprised at how much of what he experiences that I can remember. The memories started coming back with the efforts Simon made to walk. These days it's more the intensity of feelings around common scenarios... not wanting to go to bed, wanting to play with cars, or in tonight's case, having a sleepy meltdown. I totally overthink a lot of those situations. I get what he's feeling, but then how do I respond in a way that helps him in the short and long term?

When he was really small, we definitely coddled a little. Helping him roll over when he couldn't do it was probably the biggest mistake that had long-term effects. Now we let him flail a bit if it means he'll learn from it. That's eventually how we got him undressing and getting shoes on. It was too easy to let his frustration be reason to help him through things he couldn't do, and that wasn't helping him.

Tonight we had one of those situations where he was tired out of his mind, and being combative toward his bedtime routine. Even brushing his teeth he couldn't keep it together. Eventually, to get him calm enough to go to bed, I had to crawl in with him a bit. I don't think I've ever done that before. Actually, I know I haven't, because he didn't even have a bed I could fit in until we moved here! The point is, I could tell via empathy that what he needed most was the comfort of his parents.

It can be tough at times, but I love being Simon's dad. It surprisingly makes me more self-aware.


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